Every year, Samantha Payne spends time making her own wine. Nothing keeps her saner than being out in the vineyards, whether she’s in the Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale or New Zealand. “It’s my respite from the city,” she says.
As a wine specialist working with some of Sydney’s top restaurants and institutions, Payne has a lot on her plate. She’s been head sommelier at Manly Pavilion, China Lane and 4Fourteen and has hosted a wine tutorial channel on The Guardian. Now she’s a consultant, writing about wine, hosting events, tastings and masterclasses and creating wine lists for the likes of the MCA, Cornerstone at Carriageworks and the Governor’s Table at the Museum of Sydney. She’s also the wine program director at NOMAD’s restaurant and wine store. Her latest project was to create the wine list for Broadsheet Restaurant.
A trip out of town to see how wine is made is a great break, but it’s also important for Payne professionally. She has noticed that whereas eating food produced locally and ethically is an increasing preoccupation for diners, wine is often left out of this conversation. But she’s sensing a shift in the dialogue.
“I definitely think people are starting to enjoy hearing the stories of where wine comes from. Even though it’s an alcohol product, it’s also somebody’s livelihood, somebody’s story of six generations, or a young family that has taken over a site and is trying hard to make something beautiful. To be able to bring that story to your table adds another layer to the dining experience.”
The wine lists Payne curates are all-Australian. “I drink international wines,” she says, “and it’s important to see, as a comparison, what other countries are doing. But professionally I really love to champion home and what we’re doing that’s exciting: the innovative things we’re creating and how we adapt to the incredibly diverse and mostly very warm climate that we have here in Australia.”
Payne approaches a wine list with balance in mind: of region, price point and styles. “And then we look at creating that symbiosis with the food. Food changes wine and wine changes food,” she explains. “If you pair something wrong it’s going to bring out the alcohol or the acid or the tannin in a wine, and if you pair something right it becomes so cohesive and beautiful, like two notes in a song.”
Creating a wine list for Broadsheet Restaurant was a slightly different challenge. Payne needed exactly 10 wines that complement dishes from 22 of Sydney’s favourite venues. “The trick for me was to be able to create something that’s interesting and diverse but also really approachable and welcoming,” she says. “Picking wines with lots of layers and different characteristics. No wines in each variety – whether it’s a red or a white – are alike; they all have a distinct place and a purpose.”
One example is the versatile chardonnay that Payne has chosen: a “complete package” made by Damian North at Journey Wines in the Yarra Valley. “It’s got really beautiful stone fruit characteristics and there’s a little bit of oak in there for people who prefer an oaky chardonnay,” she says, “but because it’s Yarra Valley and a cool climate, it retains a really great acidity and a beautiful minerality that runs through the whole palette. It’s the kind of chardonnay I would give to a table where half wants a more traditional style and the other half doesn’t – it really ticks the boxes for everybody.”
And for those who prefer red, “a new little cheeky number that we’re doing is the Touriga Nacional”, says Payne. It’s a native Portuguese variety from Langhorne Creek in SA, with “gorgeous dark fruit, a really nice tannin structure, and a beautiful roundness and boldness in the mouth – which means it can have diverse properties,” she explains. “Pair it with some sort of chargrilled or smoky meat and all these earthy characteristics come out. But it’s also a really nice glass of wine in its own right.”
While Payne herself sadly won’t be on hand to guide us through our wine choices, staff at Broadsheet Restaurant will be well versed and information on each wine and its producer will be at hand. And, if you discover your new favourite, bottles are available to buy from nearby NOMAD. Payne is excited. “It’s a great celebration of not only Sydney dining but also Australian wine,” she says. “Seeing how we can create that cohesive dining experience and then how you can take that away and do it at home.”
Broadsheet Restaurant is opening Thursday October 6.